Abowd Honored For Advancing Computing Field

Professor Emeritus John M. Abowd, who served as chief scientist of the U.S. Census Bureau, will be honored by the Association for Computer Engineering on June 22 in San Francisco, California.

The group cited Abowd’s “transformative work in modernizing the U.S. Census Bureau’s processing and dissemination of census and survey data, which serves as a model for privacy-aware management of government-collected data.”

“Abowd’s work has transformed the government’s capacity to improve the accuracy and availability of vital statistical and data resources while, at the same time, enhancing citizens’ privacy,” the organization said in announcing its choice of Abowd for its policy award.

Providing context on why Abowd’s contributions to the field are so impactful, the association said, “The decennial census data produced by the U.S. Census Bureau, the population count of residents, is the foundation for political apportionment, redistricting, federal funding, and a range of evidence-based policy decisions. While serving as a Distinguished Senior Research Fellow at the Census Bureau, Abowd recognized that differential privacy, a specific mathematical framework used to provide statistical information about a group while protecting the confidentiality of individuals, would allow the Census to unlock crucial economics data sets that could not be previously published due to privacy requirements.”

“Working with students and civil servants, he helped create OnTheMap, which enabled external researchers to work with differentially private data from the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics Program. With these frameworks, government agencies have been able to link and share new data sources. For example, while he was Chief Scientist, a team in his directorate worked with the US Army to link service data to post-discharge employment data. This initiative-the Veteran Employment Outcomes data project-helps policymakers, military leaders, researchers, and the public examine the relationship between military service and professional outcomes,” the association said.

The full award citation can be seen here.

The policy award was established in 2014 to recognize an individual or small group that had a significant positive impact on the formation or execution of public policy affecting computing or the computing community. It is accompanied by a $10,000 prize.

Abowd, founding director of the ILR School’s Labor Dynamics Institute, is among seven individuals chosen this year by their association peers for exemplifying the organization’s mission of “advancing computing as a science and profession.”

The Association for Computing Machinery is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, uniting computing educators, researchers and professionals to inspire dialogue, share resources and address the field’s challenges.

Mary Catt is the ILR School’s communications director.

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